No. 1 Penn State will put the Yale men’s lacrosse team to the test this weekend, as the Nittany Lions seek to avenge its 21–17 loss to the Bulldogs in the 2019 NCAA Tournament semi-final.
The Bulldogs (1–0, 0–0 Ivy) turned the tides against No. 20 Villanova (1–2, 0–0 Big East) last weekend, defeating the Wildcats 18–12 after having lost to the Pennsylvania squad for two consecutive years in overtime. Yale returns to the Keystone State to compete against top-ranked Penn State (3–0, 0–0 Big Ten) with the intention of a national upset.
“I think this season we were really well-prepared mentally [for our game against Villanova], and it felt like we were able to stay calm even when things weren’t going our way, which felt different than last year,” attackman Matt Brandau ’22. “I think our goals this week are to focus on getting better at the little things that we didn’t do well against Villanova. Penn State is an exceptional team, so we’re going have to do every little thing right if we want to beat them, especially on their home field.”
The Nittany Lions have thwarted three foes so far this season, including a 19–10 win over Villanova. Despite its success, Penn State’s climb to the top is a recent feat. The Nittany Lions won their league’s championship for the first time last year, and they were ranked No. 1 in the preseason Big Ten poll for the first time since the conference was created in 2015.
Penn St. boasts a strong senior class including IL Preseason All-Americans Grant Ament, Mac O’Keefe, Nick Cardile, Colby Kneese and Gerard Arceri. Both Ament and O’Keefe made this year’s Tewaaraton watch list.
In their previous game, the Nittany Lions defeated St. Joseph’s 19–4. O’Keefe had a six-goal, seven-point night. Four of his goals came off of feeds from Ament, who finished with six assists and a lone goal. Against Villanova, the tandem was even more dominant, as Ament finished with eight points and O’Keefe with seven. If the Blue and White wish to add another win to its record, keeping the duo of Ament and O’Keefe in check will be an important task.
Last season, Yale defeated Penn State twice — once in a tight 14–13 match in February and the other in the NCAA Tournament semifinals. While the Bulldogs retain players responsible for 76 percent of goals scored in that storied semifinal, which granted Yale its second championship final breach in as many years, Penn State retains players responsible for 94 percent of its offensive production.
Since the Bulldogs enter this weekend as the underdogs, a victory over Penn State would force the Nittany Lions to spend the rest of the regular season trying to repair the damage. For the Elis, this is a chance to prove themselves in the polls; for Penn State, this is a chance to maintain its status as the top team in the nation.
“I’m sure they’re very motivated to beat us, and that’s something we don’t focus on,” Shay said. “We just try to play our game. That’s not something we can control. Like I said, this is an incredible and well coached team, so it’s going to be a huge challenge to focus on that enough rather than any revenge factor they might have.
In this year’s opener against No. 15 Villanova, several key Bulldogs did not play due to sickness or injury. One such player was goalie Jack Starr ’21. However, goalkeeper Brody Wilson ’20 stood strong between the posts to earn his fifth win as a starter for the Elis.
Wilson turned away a career-high 13 shots last Saturday. He was a big reason the momentum did not tilt in Villanova’s favor heading into the locker room, as he made a few critical saves to keep the score even at nine a piece to end the second half.
“Consistent improvement of our fundamentals and focusing on us this week, regardless of who we are playing, will put us in a good place for this weekend,” Wilson said.
Villanova bested No. 4 Maryland on Tuesday 13–12, suggesting both the Wildcats’ and the Bulldogs’ strength this season. Yale will look to march into Panzer Stadium and pick up another win on the road.
This matchup against Penn State will be the second of five straight away games for the Elis. Although not ideal, Yale is ready for the challenge.
“I think it’s two teams familiar with each other and have a lot of respect for each other,” head coach Andy Shay said. “Hopefully it’s going to be an exciting game. Frankly, I don’t know what to expect … They’re number one for a reason. They’re exceptional.”
The Bulldogs face off against the Nittany Lions on Saturday at 12 p.m. in University Park, Pennsylvania.
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